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The Geographical Pivot of History 

H. J. Mackinder 

The Geographical Journal Vol. 23, No. 4 (Apr., 1904), 421-437. 

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Sun Jul 4 23:15:12 2004 


Geographical Journal. 

No. 4. APEIL, 1904. Vol. XXIII. 


By H. J. MACKINDER, M.A., Eeader in Geography in the University of 
Oxford ; Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

When historians in the remote future come to look back on the group 
of centuries through which we are now passing, and see them fore- 
shortened, as we to-day see the Egyptian dynasties, it may well be that 
they will describe the last 400 years as the Columbian epoch, and will say 
that it ended soon after the year 1900. Of late it has been a common- 
place to speak of geographical exploration as nearly over, and it is recog- 
nized that geography must be diverted to the purpose of intensive survey 
and philosophic synthesis. In 400 years the outline of the map of the 
world has been completed with approximate accuracy, and even in the 
polar regions the voyages of Nansen and Scott have very narrowly 
reduced the last possibility of dramatic discoveries. But the opening 
of the twentieth century is appropriate as the end of a great historic 
epoch, not merely on account of this achievement, great though it be. 
The missionary, the conqueror, the farmer, the miner, and, of late, the 
engineer, have followed so closely in the traveller's footsteps that the 
world, in its remoter borders, has hardly been revealed before we must 
chronicle its virtually complete political appropriation. In Europe, 
North America, South America, Africa, and Australasia there is 
scarcely a region left for the pegging out of a claim of ownership, 
unless as the result of a war between civilized or half-civilized powers. 
Even in Asia we are probably witnessing the last moves of the game 
first played by the horsemen of Yermak the Cossack and the shipmen 
of Vasco da Gama. Broadly speaking, we may contrast the Columbian 
epoch with the age which preceded it, by describing its essential 

* Bead at the Eoyal Geographical Society, January 25, 1904. 
No. IV.— April, 1904.] 2 P 



characteristic as the expansion of Europe against almost negligible 
resistances, whereas mediaeval Christendom was pent into a narrow 
region and threatened "by external barbarism. From the present time 
forth, in the post-Columbian age, we shall again have to deal with a 
closed political system, and none the less that it will be one of world- 
wide scope. Every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated 
in a surrounding circuit of unknown space and barbaric chaos, will be 
sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe, and weak elements 
in the political and economic organism of the world will be shattered 
in consequence. There is a vast difference of effect in the fall of a 
shell into an earthwork and its fall amid the closed spaces and rigid 
structures of a great building or ship. Probably some half-conscious- 
ness of this fact is at last diverting much of the attention of statesmen 
in all parts of the world from territorial expansion to the struggle for 
relative efficiency. 

It appears to me, therefore, that in the present decade we are for the 
first time in a position to attempt, with some degree of completeness, 
a correlation between the larger geographical and the larger historical 
generalizations. For the first time we can perceive something of the real 
proportion of features and events on the stage of the whole world, and 
may seek a formula which shall express certain aspects, at any rate, 
of geographical causation in universal history. If we are fortunate, that 
formula should have a practical value as setting into perspective some 
of the competing forces in current international politics. The familiar 
phrase about the westward march of empire is an empirical and frag- 
mentary attempt of the kind. I propose this evening describing those 
physical features of the world which I believe to have been most coercive 
of human action, and presenting some of the chief phases of history as 
organically connected with them, even in the ages when they were 
unknown to geography. My aim will not be to discuss the influence of 
this or that kind of feature, or yet to make a study in regional geo- 
graphy, but rather to exhibit human history as part of the life of the 
world organism. I recognize that I can only arrive at one aspect of 
the truth, and I have no wish to stray into excessive materialism. Man 
and not nature initiates, but nature in large measure controls. My 
concern is with the general physical control, rather than the causes of 
universal history. It is obvious that only a first approximation to 
truth can be hoped for, I shall be humble to my critics. 

The, late Prof. Freeman held that the only history which counts 
is that of the Mediterranean and European races. In a sense, of course, 
this is true, for it is among these races that have originated the ideas 
which have rendered the inheritors of Greece and Eome dominant 
throughout the world. In another and very important sense, however, 
such a limitation has a cramping effect upon thought. The ideas which 
go to form a nation, as opposed to a mere crowd of human animals, 



have usually been accepted under the pressure of a common tribu- 
lation, and under a common necessity of resistance to external force. 
The idea of England was beaten into the Heptarchy by Danish and 
Norman conquerors ; the idea of France was forced upon competing 
Franks, Goths, and Bomans by the Huns at Chalons, and in the 
Hundred Years' War with England ; the idea of Christendom was born 
of the Eoman persecutions, and matured by the Crusades ; the idea of the 
United States was accepted, and local colonial patriotism sunk, only in 
the long War of Independence ; the idea of the German Empire was 
reluctantly adopted in South Germany only after a struggle against 
France in comradeship with North Germany. What I may describe as 
the literary conception of history, by concentrating attention upon ideas 
and upon the civilization which is their outcome, is apt to lose sight of 
the more elemental movements whose pressure is commonly the exciting 
cause of the efforts in which great ideas are nourished. A repellent 
personality performs a valuable social function in uniting his enemies, 
and it was under the pressure of external barbarism that Europe 
achieved her civilization. I ask you, therefore, for a moment to look 
upon Europe and European history as subordinate to Asia and Asiatic 
history, for European civilization is, in a very real sense, the outcome of 
the secular struggle against Asiatic invasion. 

The most remarkable contrast in the political map of modern 
Europe is that presented by the vast area of Eussia occupying half 
the Continent and the group of smaller territories tenanted by the 
Western Powers. From a physical point of view, there is, of course, 
a like contrast between the unbroken lowland of the east and the 
rich complex of mountains and valleys, islands and peninsulas, which 
together form the remainder of this part of the world. At first sight 
it would appear that in these familiar facts we have a correlation 
between natural environment and political organization so obvious as 
hardly to be worthy of description, especially when we note that 
throughout the Eussian plain a cold winter is opposed to a hot summer, 
and the conditions of human existence thus rendered additionally 
uniform. Yet a series of historical maps, such as that contained in 
the Oxford Atlas, will reveal the fact that not merely is the rough 
coincidence of European Eussia with the Eastern Plain of Europe a 
matter of the last hundred years or so, but that in all earlier time 
there was persistent re-assertion of quite another tendency in the 
political grouping. Two groups of states usually divided the country 
into northern and southern political systems. The fact is that 
the orographical map does not express the particular physical contrast 
which has until very lately controlled human movement and settlement 
in Eussia. When the screen of winter snow fades northward off the 
vast face of the plain, it is followed by rains whose maximum occurs 
in May and June beside the Black sea, but near the Baltic and White 




seas is deferred to July and August. In the south the later summer 
is a period of drought. As a consequence of this climatic regime, the 
north and north-west were forest broken only by marshes, whereas 
the south and south-east were a boundless grassy steppe, with trees 
only along the rivers. The line separating the two regions ran 
diagonally north-eastward from the northern end of the Carpathians 

Fig- 1 


Rafter drude in berghaus 1 physical atlas) 

to a point in the Ural range nearer to its southern than to its northern 
extremity. Moscow lies a little to north of this line, or, in other words, 
on the forest side of it. Outside Euseia the boundary of the great forest 
ran westward almost exactly through the centre of the European 
isthmus, which is 800 miles across be twee n the Baltic and the Black 
seas. Beyond this, in Peninsular Europe, the woods spread on through 
the plains of Germany in the north, while the steppe lands in the south 



turned the great Transylvanian bastion of the Carpathians, and extended 
up the Danube, through what are now the cornfields of Eonmania, to the 
Iron Gates. A detached area of steppes, known locally as Pusstas, 
now largely cultivated, occupied the plain of Hungary, ingirt by the 
forested rim of Carpathian and Alpine mountains. In all the west of 
Russia, save in the far north, the clearing of the forests, the drainage of 

fig- z 

Darbishire&Stanford.Ltd., The Oxford Ceogf Institute. 



the marshes, and the tillage of the steppes have recently averaged the 
character of the landscape, and in large measure obliterated a distinction 
which was formerly very coercive of humanity. 

The earlier Kussia and Poland were established wholly in the glades 
of the forest. Through the steppe on the other hand there came from 
the unknown recesses of Asia, by the gateway between the Ural moun- 
tains and the Caspian sea, in all the centuries from the fifth to the 



sixteenth, a remarkable succession of Turanian nomadic peoples — 
Huns, Avars, Bulgarians, Magyars, Khazars, Patzinaks, Cumans, 
Mongols, Kalmuks. Under Attila the Huns established themselves 
in the midst of the Pusstas, in the uttermost Danubian outlier of 
the steppes, and thence dealt blows northward, westward, and south- 
ward against the settled peoples of Europe. A large part of modern 

Darbishire&Stanford Ltd. The Oxford Geog! Institute 



history might be written as a commentary upon the changes directly 
or indirectly ensuing from these raids. The Angles and Saxons, it 
is quite possible, were then driven to cross the seas to found England 
in Britain. The Franks, the Goths, and the Eoman provincials were 
compelled, for the first time, to stand shoulder to shoulder on the 
battlefield of Chalons, making common cause against the Asiatics, 
who were unconsciously; welding together modern France. Venice 



was founded from the destruction of Aquileia and Padua ; and even the 
Papacy owed a decisive prestige to the successful mediation of Pope 
Leo with Attila at Milan. Such was the harvest of results produced 
by a cloud of ruthless and idealess horsemen sweeping over the un- 
impeded plain — a blow, as it were, from the great Asiatic hammer 
striking freely through the vacant space. The Huns were followed 
by the Avars. It was for a marchland against these that Austria 
was founded, and Vienna fortified, as the result of the campaigns 
of Charlemagne. The Magyar came next, and by incessant raiding 
from his steppe base in Hungary increased the significance of the 
Austrian outpost, so drawing the political focus of Germany east- 
ward to the margin of the realm. The Bulgarian established a ruling 
caste south of the Danube, and has left his name upon the map, 
although his language has yielded to that of his^Slavonic subjects. 
Perhaps the longest and most effective occupation of the Russian 
steppe proper was that of the Khazars, who were contemporaries 
of the great Saracen movement : the Arab geographers knew the 
Caspian as the Khazar sea. In the end, however, new hordes arrived 
from Mongolia, and for two centuries Russia in the northern forest 
was held tributary to the Mongol Khans of Kipchak, or " the Steppe," 
and Russian development was thus delayed and biassed at a time when 
the remainder of Europe was rapidly advancing. 

It should be noted that the rivers running from the Forest to the 
Black and Caspian seas cross the whole breadth of the steppe-land path 
of the nomads, and that from time to time there were transient move- 
ments along their courses at right angles to the movement of the 
horsemen. Thus the missionaries of Greek Christianity ascended the 
Dnieper to Kief, just as beforehand the Norse Varangians had descended 
the same river on their way to Constantinople. Still earlier, the 
Teutonic Goths appear for a moment upon the Dniester, having crossed 
Europe from the shores of the Baltic in the same south-eastward 
direction. But these are passing episodes which do not invalidate the 
broader generalization. For a thousand years a series of horse-riding 
peoples emerged from Asia through the broad interval between the 
Ural mountains and the Caspian sea, rode through the open spaces of 
southern Russia, and struck home into Hungary in the very heart of 
the European peninsula, shaping by the necessity of opposing them the 
history of each of the great peoples around— the Russians, the Germans, 
the French, the Italians, and the Byzantine Greeks. That they stimu- 
lated healthy aDd powerful reaction, instead of crushing opposition 
under a widespread despotism, was due to the fact that the mobility of 
their power was conditioned by the steppes, and necessarily ceased in 
the surrounding forests and mountains. 

A rival mobility of power was that of the Vikings in their boats. 
Descending from Scandinavia both upon the northern and the southern 



shores of Europe, they penetrated inland by the river ways. But the 
scope of their action was limited, for, broadly speaking, their power 
was effective only in the neighbourhood of the water. Thus the settled 
peoples of .Europe lay gripped between two pressures — that of the 
Asiatic nomads from the east, and on the other three sides that of the 
pirates from the sea. From its very nature neither pressure was over- 
whelming, and both therefore were stimulative. It is noteworthy that 
the formative influence of the Scandinavians was second only in sig- 
nificance to that of the nomads, for under their attack both England 
and France made long moves towards unity, while the unity of Italy 
was broken by them. In earlier times, Eome had mobilized the power 
of her settled peoples by means of her roads, but the Roman roads had 
fallen into decay, and were not replaced until the eighteenth century. 

It is likely that even the Hunnish invasion was by no means the 
first of the Asiatic series. The Scythians of the Homeric and Hero- 
dotian accounts, drinking the milk of mares, obviously practised the 
same arts of life, and were probably of the same race as the later 
inhabitants of the steppe. The Celtic element in the river-names Don, 
Dowetz, Dneiper, Dneister, and Danube may possibly betoken the 
passage of peoples of similar habits, though not of identical race, but 
it is not unlikely that the Celts came merely from the northern forests, 
like the Goths and Varangians of a later time. The great wedge of 
population, however, which the anthropologists characterize as Brachy- 
Cephalic, driven westward from Bra chy- Cephalic Asia through Central 
Europe into France, is apparently intrusive between the northern, 
western, and southern Dolico-Cephalic populations, and may very 
probably have been derived from Asia.* 

The full meaning of Asiatic influence upon Europe is not, however, 
discernible until we come to the Mongol invasions of the fifteenth 
century ; but before we analyze the essential facts concerning these, it 
is desirable to shift our geographical view-point from Europe, so that 
we may consider the Old World in its entirety. It is obvious that, 
since the rainfall is derived from the sea, the heart of the greatest 
land-mass is likely to be relatively dry. We are not, therefore, sur- 
prised to find that two- thirds of all the world's population is concen- 
trated in relatively small areas along the margins of the great continent — 
in Europe, beside the Atlantic ocean; in the Indies and China, beside the 
Indian and Pacific oceans. A vast belt of almost uninhabited, because 
practically rainless, land extends as the Sahara completely across 
Northern Africa into Arabia. Central and Southern Africa were almost 
as completely severed from Europe and Asia throughout the greater 
part of history as were the Americas and Australia. In fact, the 
southern boundary of Europe was and is the Sahara rather than the 

* See 'The Races of Europe,' by Prof. W. Z. Ripley (Kegan Paul, 1900). 



Mediterranean, for it is the desert which divides the black man from 
the white. The continuous land-mass of Euro- Asia thus included 
between the ocean and the desert measures 21,000,000 square miles, 
or half of all the land on the globe, if we exclude from reckoning the 
deserts of Sahara and Arabia. There are many detached deserts scat- 
tered through Asia, from Syria and Persia north-eastward to Manchuria, 
but no such continuous vacancy as to be comparable with the Sahara. 
On the other hand, Euro-Asia is characterized by a very remarkable 
distribution of river drainage. Throughout an immense portion of 
the centre and north, the rivers have been practically useless for 
purposes of human communication with the outer world. The Volga, 
the Oxus, and the Jaxartes drain into salt lakes ; the Obi, the Yenesei, 
and the Lena into the frozen ocean of the north. These are six of the 

Darbishire & Stanford Ltd. The Oxford Geog' Institute. 



greatest rivers in the world. There are many smaller but still con- 
siderable streams in the same area, such as the Tarim and the Helmund, 
which similarly fail to reach the ocean. Thus the core of Euro- Asia, 
although mottled with desert patches, is on the whole a steppe-land 
supplying a wide-spread if often scanty pasture, and there are not a 
few river- fed oases in it, but it is wholly unpenetrated by waterways 
from the ocean. In other words, we have in this immense area all 
the conditions for the maintenance of a sparse, but in the aggregate 
considerable, population of horse-riding and camel-riding nomads. Their 
realm is limited northward by a broad belt of sub-arctic forest and 
marsh, wherein the climate is too rigorous, except at the eastern and 
western extremities, for the development of agricultural settlements. In 
the east the forests extend southward to the Pacific coast in the Amur 



land and Manchuria. Similarly in the west, in prehistoric Europe, forest 
was the predominant vegetation. Thus framed in to the north-east, 
north, and north-west, the steppes spread continuously for 4000 miles 
from the Pusstas of Hungary to the Little Gobi of Manchuria, and, 
except in their westernmost extremity, they are untraversed by rivers 
draining to an accessible ocean, for we may neglect the very recent 
efforts to trade to the mouths of the Obi and Yenisei. In Europe, 
Western Siberia, and Western Turkestan the steppe lands lie low, in 
some places below the level of the sea. Further to east, in Mongolia, 
they extend over plateaux; but the passage from the one level to the 
other, over the naked, unscarped lower ranges of the arid heart-land, 
presents little difficulty. 

The hordes which ultimately fell upon Europe in the middle of the 
fourteenth century gathered their first force 3000 miles away on the 
high steppes of Mongolia. The havoc wrought for a few years in Poland, 
Silesia, Moravia, Hungary, Croatia, and Servia was, however, but the 
remotest and the most transient result of the great stirring of the 
nomads of the East associated with the name of Ghenghiz Khan. 
While the Golden Horde occupied the steppe of Kipchak, from the 
Sea of Aral, through the interval between the Ural range and the 
Caspian, to the foot of the Carpathians, another horde, descending 
south-westward between the Caspian sea and the Hindu Kush into 
Persia, Mesopotamia, and even into Syria, founded the domain of the 
Ilkhan. A third subsequently struck into Northern China, conquering 
Cathay. India and Mangi, or Southern China, were for a time shel- 
tered by the incomparable barrier of Tibet, to whose efficacy there is, 
perhaps, nothing similar in the world, unless it be the Sahara desert 
and the polar ice. But at a later time, in the days of Marco Polo in 
the case of Mangi, in those of Tamerlane in the case of India, the 
obstacle was circumvented. Thus it happened that in this typical and 
well-recorded instance, all the settled margins of the Old World sooner 
or later felt the expansive force of mobile power originating in the 
steppe. Russia, Persia, India, and China were either made tributary, 
or received Mongol dynasties. Even the incipient power of the Turks 
in Asia Minor was struck down for half a century. 

As in the case of Europe, so in other marginal lands of Euro- Asia 
there are records of earlier invasions. China had more than once to 
submit to conquest from the north; India several times to conquest 
from the north-west. In the case of Persia, however, at least one of 
the earlier descents has a special significance in the history of Western 
civilization. Three or four centuries before the Mongols, the Seljuk 
Turks, emerging from Central Asia, overran by this path an immense 
area of the land, which we may describe as of the five seas— Caspian, 
Black, Mediterranean, Ked, and Persian. They established themselves 
at Kerman, at Hamadan, and in Asia Minor, and they overthrew the 



Saracen dominion of Bagdad and Damascus. It was ostensibly to punish 
their treatment of the Christian pilgrims at Jerusalem that Christen- 
dom undertook the great series of campaigns known collectively as the 
Crusades. Although these failed in their immediate objects, they so 
stirred and united Europe tbat we may count them as the beginning 
of modern history — another striking instance of European advance 
stimulated by the necessity of reacting against pressure from the heart 
of Asia. 

The conception of Euro- Asia to which we thus attain is that of a 
continuous land, ice-girt in the north, water-girt elsewhere, measuring 
21 million square miles, or more than three times the area of North 
America, whose centre and north, measuring some 9 million square 
miles, or more than twice the area of Europe, have no available 
water-ways to the ocean, but, on the other hand, except in the subarctic 
forest, are very generally favourable to the mobility of horsemen and 
camelmen. To east, south, and west of this heart-land are marginal 
regions, ranged in a vast crescent, accessible to shipmen. According 
to physical conformation, these regions are four in number, and it is not 
a little remarkable that in a general way they respectively coincide 
with the spheres of the four great religions — Buddhism, Brahminism, 
Mahometanism, and Christianity. The first two are the monsoon lands, 
turned the one towards the Pacific, and the other towards the Indian 
ocean. The fourth is Europe, watered by the Atlantic rains from the 
west. These three together, measuring less than 7 million square miles, 
have more than 1000 million people, or two-thirds of the world population. 
The third, coinciding with the land of the Five Seas, or, as it is more 
often described, the Nearer East, is in large measure deprived of moisture 
by the proximity of Africa, and, except in the oases, is therefore 
thinly peopled. In some degree it partakes of the characteristics both 
of the marginal belt and of the central area of Euro-Asia. It is mainly 
devoid of forest, is patched with desert, and is therefore suitable for 
the operations of the nomad. Dominantly, however, it is marginal, for 
sea-gulfs and oceanic rivers lay it open to sea-power, and permit of the 
exercise of such power from it. As a consequence, periodically throughout 
history, we have here had empires belonging essentially to the marginal 
series, based on the agricultural populations of the great oases of 
Babylonia and Egypt, and in free water-communication with the civilized 
worlds of the Mediterranean and the Indies. But, as we should expect, 
these empires have been subject to an unparalleled series of revolutions, 
some due to Scythian, Turkish, and Mongol raids from Central Asia! 
others to the effort of the Mediterranean peoples to conquer the overland 
ways from the western to the eastern ocean. Here is the weakest spot 
in the girdle of early civilizations, for the isthmus of Suez divided sea- 
power into Eastern and Western, and the arid wastes of Persia advancing 
from Central Asia to the Persian gulf gave constant opportunity for 



nomad-power to strike home to the ocean edge, dividing India and 
China, on the one hand, from the Mediterranean world on the other. 
Whenever the Babylonian, the Syrian, and the Egyptian oases were 
weakly held, the steppe-peoples could treat the open tablelands of 
Iran and Asia Minor as forward posts whence to strike through the 
Punjab into India, through Syria into Egypt, and over the broken 
bridge of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles into Hungary. Yienna stood 
in the gateway of Inner Europe, withstanding the nomadic raids, both 
those which came by the direct road through the Eussian steppe, and 
those which came by the loop way to south of the Black and Caspian 

Here we have illustrated the essential difference between the Saracen 
and the Turkish controls of the Nearer East. The Saracens were a 
branch of the Semitic race, essentially peoples of the Euphrates and 
Nile and of the smaller oases of Lower Asia. They created a great 
empire by availing themselves of the two mobilities permitted by their 
l an d — that of the horse and camel on the one hand, that of the ship 
on the other. At different times their fleets controlled both the Mediter- 
ranean as far as Spain, and the Indian ocean to the Malay islands. 
From their strategically central position between the eastern and 
western oceans, they attempted the conquest of all the marginal lands 
of the Old World, imitating Alexander and anticipating Napoleon. 
They could even threaten the steppe land. Wholly distinct from 
Arabia as from Europe, India, and China were the Turanian pagans 
from the closed heart of Asia, the Turks who destroyed the Saracen 

Mobility upon the ocean is the natural rival of horse and camel 
mobility in the heart of the continent. It was upon navigation of 
oceanic rivers that was based the Potamic stage of civilization, that of 
China on the Yangtse, that of India on the Ganges, that of Babylonia 
on the Euphrates, that of Egypt on the Nile. It was essentially upon 
the navigation of the Mediterranean that was based what has been 
described as the Thalassic stage of civilization, that of the Greeks and 
Eomans. The Saracens and the Vikings held sway by navigation of 
the oceanic coasts. 

The all-important result of the discovery of the Cape road to the 
Indies was to connect the western and eastern coastal navigations of Euro- 
Asia, even though by a circuitous route, and thus in some measure to 
neutralize the strategical advantage of the central position of the steppe- 
nomads by pressing upon them in rear. The revolution commenced by 
the great mariners of the Columbian generation endowed Christendom 
with the widest possible mobility of power, short of a winged mobility. 
The one and continuous ocean enveloping the divided and insular lands 
is, of course, the geographical condition of ultimate unity in the command 
of the sea, and of the whole theory of modern naval strategy and policy 



as expounded by such writers as Captain Mahan and: Mr. Spencer Wilkin- 
son. The broad political effect was to reverse the relations of Europe 
and Asia, for whereas in the Middle Ages Europe was caged between 
an impassable desert to south, an unknown ocean to west, and icy or 
forested wastes to north and north-east, and in the east and south- 
east was constantly threatened by the superior mobility of the horsemen 
and camelmen, she now emerged upon the world, multiplying more than 
thirty -fold the sea surface and coastal lands to which she had access, and 
wrapping her influence round the Euro-Asiatic land-power which had 
hitherto threatened her very existence. New Europes were created in the 
vacant lands discovered in the midst of the waters, and what Britain 
and Scandinavia were to Europe in the earlier time, that have America 
and Australia, and in some measure even Trans-Saharan Africa, now 
become to Euro- Asia. Britain, Canada, the United States, South Africa, 
Australia, and Japan are now a ring of outer and insular bases for 
sea-power and commerce, inaccessible to the land-power of Euro- Asia. 

But the land power still remains, and recent events have again in- 
creased its significance. While the maritime peoples of Western Europe 
have covered the ocean with their fleets, settled the outer continents, 
and in varying degree made tributary the oceanic margins of Asia, 
Eussia has organized the Cossacks, and, emerging from her northern 
forests, has policed the steppe by setting her own nomads to meet the 
Tartar nomads. The Tudor century, which saw the expansion of 
Western Europe over the sea, also saw Eussian power carried from 
Moscow through Siberia. The eastward swoop of the horsemen across 
Asia was an event almost as pregnant with political consequences as was 
the rounding of the Cape, although the two movements long remained 

It is probably one of the most striking coincidences of history that 
the seaward and the landward expansion of Europe should, in a sense, 
continue the ancient opposition between Eoman and Greek. Few great 
failures have had more far-reaching consequences than the failure of 
Eome to Latinize the Greek. The Teuton was civilized and Christianized 
by the Eoman, the Slav in the main by the Greek. It is the Eomano- 
Teuton who in later times embarked upon the ocean ; it was the Graeco- 
Slav who rode over the steppes, conquering the Turanian. Thus the 
modern land-power differs from the sea-power no less in the source of 
its ideals than in the material conditions of its mobility.* 

In the wake of the Cossack, Eussia has safely emerged from her 
former seclusion in the northern forests. Perhaps the change of greatest 

* This statement was criticized in the discussion which followed the reading of the 
paper. On reconsidering the paragraph, I still think it substantially correct. Even the 
Byzantine Greek would have been other than he was had Eome completed the subjugation 
of the ancient Greek. No doubt the ideals spoken of were Byzantine rather than 
Hellenic, but they were not Koman, which is the point. 



intrinsic importance which took place in Europe in the last century was 
the southward migration of the Kussian peasants, so that, whereas agri- 
cultural settlements formerly ended at the forest boundary, the centre of 
the population of all European Eussia now lies to south of that boundary, 
in the midst of the wheat-fields which have replaced the more western 
steppes. Odessa has here risen to importance with the rapidity of an 
American city. 

A generation ago steam and the Suez canal appeared to have 
increased the mobility of sea-power relatively to land-power. Eailways 
acted chiefly as feeders to ocean-going commerce. But trans-conti- 
nental railways are now transmuting the conditions of land-power, and 
nowhere can they have such effect as in the closed heart-land of Euro- 
Asia, in vast areas of which neither timber nor accessible stone was 
available for road-making. Eailways work the greater 'wonders in the 
steppe, because they directly replace horse and camel mobility, the road 
stage of development having here been omitted. 

In the matter of commerce it must not be forgotten that ocean-going 
traffic, however relatively cheap, usually involves the fourfold handling 
of goods — at the factory of origin, at the export wharf, at the import 
wharf, and at the inland warehouse for retail distribution ; whereas the 
continental railway truck may run direct from the exporting factory 
into the importing warehouse. Thus marginal ocean- fed commerce 
tends, other things being equal, to form a zone of penetration round 
the continents, whose inner limit is roughly marked by the line along 
which the cost of four handlings, the oceanic freight, and the railway 
freight from the neighbouring coast, is equivalent to the cost of two 
handlings and the continental railway freight. English and German 
coals are said to compete on such terms midway through Lombardy. 

The Eussian railways have a clear run of 6000 miles from 
Wirballen in the west to Vladivostok in the east. The Eussian army 
in Manchuria is as significant evidence of mobile land-power as the 
British army in South Africa was of sea-power. True, that the Trans- 
Siberian railway is still a single and precarious line of communication, 
but the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways. 
The spaces within the Eussian Empire and Mongolia are so vast, and 
their potentialities in population, wheat, cotton, fuel, and metals so 
incalculably great, that it is inevitable that a vast economic world, 
more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce. 

As we consider this rapid review of the broader currents of history , 
does not a certain persistence of geographical relationship become 
evident ? Is not the pivot region of the world's politics that vast area 
of Euro- Asia which is inaccessible to ships, but in antiquity lay open 
to the horse-riding nomads, and is to-day about to be covered with a 
network of railways? There have been and are here the conditions 
of a mobility of military and economic power of a far-reaching and yet 



limited character. Eussia replaces the Mongol Empire. Her pressure 
on Finland, on Scandinavia, on Poland, on Turkey, on Persia, on India, 
and on China, replaces the centrifugal raids of the steppemen. In the 
world at large she occupies the central strategical position held by- 
Germany in Europe. She can strike on all sides and be struck from all 
sides, save the north. The full development of her modern railway 
mobility is merely a matter of time. Nor is it likely that any possible 
social revolution will alter her essential relations to the great geo- 
graphical limits of her existence. Wisely recognizing the fundamental 
limits of her power, her rulers have parted with Alaska ; for it is as 
much a law of policy for Eussia to own nothing over seas as for Britain 
to be supreme on the ocean. 

Outside the pivot area, in a great inner crescent, are Germany, 
Austria, Turkey, India, and China, and in an outer crescent, Britain, 
South Africa, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Japan. In the 
present condition of the balance of power, the pivot state, Eussia, is 
not equivalent to the peripheral states, and there is room for an equi- 
poise in France. The United States has recently become an eastern 
power, affecting the European balance not directly, but through Eussia, 
and she will construct the Panama canal to make her Mississippi and 
Atlantic resources available in the Pacific. From this point of view 
the real divide between east and west is to be found in the Atlantic 

The oversetting of the balance of power in favour of the pivot state, 
resulting in its expansion over the marginal lands of Euro- Asia, would 
permit of the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and 
the empire of the world would then be in sight. This might happen if 
Germany were to ally herself with Eussia. The threat of such an event 
should, therefore, throw France into alliance with the over-sea powers, 
and France, Italy, Egypt, India, and Corea would become so many 
bridge heads where the outside navies would support armies to compel 
the pivot allies to deploy land forces and prevent them from concentrating 
their whole strength on fleets. On a smaller scale that was what 
Wellington accomplished from his sea-base at Torres Vedras in the 
Peninsular War. May not this in the end prove to be the strategical 
function of India in the British Imperial system ? Is not this the idea 
underlying Mr. Amery's conception that the British military front 
stretches from the Cape through India to Japan ? 

The development of the vast potentialities of South America might 
have a decisive influence upon the system. They might strengthen the 
United States, or, on the other hand, if Germany were to challenge the 
Monroe doctrine successfully, they might detach Berlin from what I 
may perhaps describe as a pivot policy. The particular combinations 
of power brought into balance are not material ; my contention is that 
from a geographical point of view they are likely to rotate round the 



pivot state, which is always likely to be great, but with limited mobility 
as compared with the surrounding marginal and insular powers. 

I have spoken as a geographer. The actual balance of political 
power at any given time is, of course, the product, on the one hand, of 
geographical conditions, both economic and strategic, and, on the other 
hand, of the relative number, virility, equipment, and organization of 
the competing peoples. In proportion as these quantities are accurately 
estimated are we likely to adjust differences without the crude resort to 
arms. And the geographical quantities in the calculation are more 
measurable and more nearly constant than the human. Hence we should 
expect to find our formula apply equally to past history and to present 
politics. The social movements of all times have played around essen- 
tially the game physical features, for I doubt whether the progressive 
desiccation of Asia and Africa, even if proved, has in historical times 
vitally altered the human environment. The westward march of empire 
appears to me to have been a short rotation of marginal power round 
the south-western and western edge of the pivotal area. The Nearer, 
Middle, and Far Eastern questions relate to the unstable equilibrium of 
inner and outer powers in those parts of the marginal crescent where 
local power is, at present, more or less negligible. 

In conclusion, it may be well expressly to point out that the sub- 
stitution of some new control of the inland area for that of Eussia would 
not tend to reduce the geographical significance of the pivot position. 
Were the Chinese, for instance, organized by the Japanese, to overthrow 
the Eussian Empire and conquer its territory, they might constitute 
the yellow peril to the world's freedom just because they would add an 
oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage 
as yet denied to the Eussian tenant of the pivot region. 

Before the reading of the paper, the President said : We are always very glad 
when we can induce our friend Mr. Mackinder to address us on any subject, because 
all he says to us is sure to he interesting and original and valuable. There is no 
necessity for me to introduce so old a friend of the Society to the meeting, and I 
will therefore at once ask him to read his paper. 

After the reading of the paper, the President said : We hope that Mr. Spencer 
Wilkinson will offer some criticism on Mr. Mackinder's paper. Of course, it will 
not be possible to avoid geographical politics to a certain extent. 

Mr. Spencer Wilkinson : It would occur to me that the most natural thing 
and the mcst sincere thing to say at the beginning is to endeavour to express the 
great gratitude which, I am sure, every one here feels for one of the most stimu- 
lating papers that has been read for a long time. As I was listening to the paper, 
I looked with regret on some of the space that is unoccupied here, and I much 
regret that a portion of it was not occupied by the members of the Cabinet, for I 
gathered that in Mr. Mackinder's paper we have two main doctrines laid down : the 
first, which is not altogether new — I think it was foreseen some years back in the last 
century — that since the modern improvements of steam navigation the whole of 
the world has become one, and has become one political system. I forget the 

No. IV.— April, 1904.] 2 g